Maybe its time to steal transit ideas from Burlington?

Whoa, it’s been a while.

I’ve decided to try this blogging thing again. Basically, I spend enough time thinking about things, I might as well write them down in some place. Besides, with a municipal election coming up in 2014, I’ll probably have things to say from the peanut gallery sidelines.

Anyway, let’s ease into this by talking about Presto’s upcoming “upgrades”. If you are of the handful of often-frustrated people that use the Presto online services, you’ll probably know that they are starting a software upgrade today. There will be some service interruptions as they upgrade software so that (among other things) funds actually show up on your card right away.

That’ll be a nice change, but really just brings the system in line with how we expect stored-value cards to work in 2014. But what if we were to upgrade Presto so that it made some of the harder decisions, like whether or not you needed a pass in a given month, for you?

Presto keeps a log of how often you use the bus over the course of the month. You can even claim the transit tax credit if you take enough single trips. What if, after you’ve spent a certain amount of money or taken a certain number of trips, it just stopped charging you for future trips? Basically, you get a monthly pass after you’ve paid for one.

Crazy talk, right? I mean, that probably would require a whole re-working of the system and some re-programming that would take a pile of money and time.

Nope. That’s actually how Presto works in a bunch of the GTA communities where it was first implemented. Some are monthly (Oakville, Burlington), a bunch work weekly (Mississauga, Hamilton). Cutely, most even call it a “loyalty program”, rewarding you for using the bus. I suppose it’s more compelling than telling people that they inadvertently bought a bus pass.

Basically, Presto doesn’t work this way in Ottawa because no one has thought to make it work that way. It’s a no-cost way of improving the transit user experience in Ottawa, and a new feature might even build a little good will following the debacle that was Presto’s roll out.






Radio Topics, May 31st

Happy Almost June! I’m back after a couple of weeks away, and Adam and I will be marking the end of Bike to Work month with a couple of cycling-related interviews.

At 8:05, I’ll talk with Elyse McCann of the Envirocentre about Bike to Work Month’s final celebrations, as well as the Bruce Timmerman’s Award. At 8:30, Adam will talk to Seb from Bicycles for Humanity.

We’ll also touch on some of the following:

Can it be true? The Jets return?

Fun with Conservative Convention motions!

Rob Ford denies his plan for subways will require road tolls.

Canada Post to maybe strike.

Swantanamo Bay, Encore?

Radio Topics, January 18th

Happy Tuesday! I’ve got an exciting show lined up this week. At 7:30, we’ll speak with my good friend (and former CKCU host) Mariee-Josée Houle. She’s got a gig coming up at Café Nostalgica. At 8:15, we’ll speak with Lisa from the new Ottawa events site Couch Assassin. Finally, at 8:30, I’ll talk with Ron Walker of the Canadiana Discovery Portal, which brings google-like searching to historical documents.

We’ll also touch on some of this:

Ireland MPs to vote to oust their PM

Bambi vs. Salt Spring Islands: They have an adorable, if destructive, infestation

CRTC easing ban on misleading news

Queen’s Park vs. zoning requirements

Dire Straits: suddenly relevant again?

JPII gets beatified.

Larry O’Brien, on his Re-Election Campaign

This morning, I spoke with Mayor Larry O’Brien about his campaign for re-election. We talked about what’s he’s achieved over the past year, his financial plans, setting up a arms-length agency for OC Transpo, and E-governance. The mayor made a quick comment at the end about his ring-road proposal, which I wish I’d remember to ask about earlier.

To say that the Mayor has had a rocky term is a bit of an understatement, but he is certainly a lot more polished now than before, even when we go outside of  what I presume he would have prepared for. He laments “professional politicians” a couple of times during the interview, but in terms of the actual practice of politics he has gotten much better.

Do enjoy!

The Greyhound Station

(Image courtesy of cwangdom on flickr, CC-NC-SA)

I spoke with Stuart Robertson, the guy that owns the Greyhound station, this morning on radio – I do have audio, which I was planning on posting, but the file was eaten by my thumbstick. So expect that later.

Last week we talked about the Mayor’s thoughts on moving the bus station, and there has apparently been enough movement to spark Robertson to create a website against moving it. As a matter of background, Mr. Robertson rents the building to Station Centrale, who operates the terminal for Greyhound. This makes sort of a wierd situation, because essentially the landlord is creating a public campaign to pressure his tenant to keep renting space from him.

Robertson is looking to make sure that any decision that happens is in public, and “not by just the head of VIA rail”. As I said on air, the bus station is sort of weird in that, as best as I can figure, it is the only organized intercity transportation service where the depot is privately operated, designed, and held. Robertson suggested that zoning by the railyards would facilitate an easy switch of the station (which he thought was a bad thing, given that staff won’t get to study it), but that’s more or less exactly how these things are supposed to work. That puts the bus terminal in a weird grey zone: we might expect public input into its location, but I’m not sure on the surface if we actually have much of a say.

A couple of random thoughts, before I forget:

  • I like the bus station where it is, but am not wedded to it. This is mostly because its pretty close to my house. That’s an advantage I have, but I have never taken the bus so frequently that the cab fare would be a big deal.
  • I’m not totally sure what I think about having no inter-city transportation options directly downtown. On the one hand, it makes intuitive sense that you take people right downtown, on the other we are talking about moving the terminal less than 5km away, which really isn’t all that far, save for those that are walking. Ottawa has a pretty compressed downtown core, and many of the people that actually use the bus aren’t going to or from it, so perhaps we are a bit unrealistic about keeping everything there.
  • It’s a good press line, but I don’t really think that this is a decision that rests with just VIA. It would seem that it’s up to greyhound to determine the business case for where there station is located. For all I know they are looking to play potential landlords against each other for a better deal. VIA might make the offer to put a bus station somewhere, but nothing compels greyhound to take it.
  • The Carleton taxi and walking comparison’s on the website are kind of disingenuous, given that a cab fare to the University of Ottawa would be less by the rail station. Also, I doubt that student’s transportation decisions are really determined by a 6 dollar cab difference.
  • More on that: Being on the transitway, the via terminal actually has better bus service at all times of the day than Catherine Street. When I still lived in Nepean, arriving late on the bus was a pain to get home. It’s less so when a 95 comes by, even at 1:30 in the morning.
In short: I understand why there might be efforts to keep the bus station where it is, especially from the guy that has a stable and presumably lucrative tenant.  But the more I think about it, I’m more and more sure that moving the greyhound station in the not-so-distant future might make a lot of sense. I’m not wedded to any particular location, and I’ve probably thought as much about this in the last couple of days as anyone that isn’t directly involved, but I think that in any conversation we have about this I’m going to end up deciding another location would make sense, especially since all of this has me thinking about what could be done with the Catherine Street terminal if Greyhound leaves.

Shawn Menard on “Our Ottawa”

Yesterday on CKCU I had a conversation with Shawn Menard on the “Our Ottawa” group. There’s been lot’s of hints over the past few months as to what exactly the organization is, much to the consternation of some. They’ve been pitching themselves as a “network of community organizations”, and their first real release was more than a little cagey, though it does position them of being generally in favour of centre-leftish (with an emphasis on the centre) urbanist ideas. You won’t find much disagreement in this corner with things like restricting the urban boundary, supporting services like Crime Prevention Ottawa, or a more general push to city-wide thinking.

I think the interview clears things up a little bit more, leaving a bit of a better scope of who is actually involved. It’s also pretty clear that there is some manner of organisation behind the group, and they aim to make it more than an umbrella title for a coalition of like-minded groups. While they aren’t going to run a slate of candidates, they are going to do some decidedly slate-like things and (I paraphrase here) endorse candidates that are willing to endorse their principles, and maybe even look out to find some people to carry the flag. It seemed pretty clear that endorsement will come with at least some organizational and volunteer support.

That’s a pretty big deal, especially if they are as organized as they make it sound. Unseating incumbent councillors is a daunting prospect, even if you have a group of dedicated and connected volunteers, but is certainly not impossible. The real advantage will probably be in open contests, of which there are at least three so far. Council candidates have a notoriously tough time trying to build profile, so being able to associate with a larger group of ideas can only help.

We’re still a ways off from the election, and it’s still a bit early to tell exactly what effect this will have at the ballot box. At this point, I think that its fair to say that they will be an important part of the campaign, and should make the council races a whole lot more interesting. Short of it being a spectacular failure,  I expect that we’re going to see more coordination like this in the future, and especially from those that disagree with what Our Ottawa ultimately advocates.

Our Ottawa is organizing a rally today at noon at City Hall to oppose the re-opening of the urban boundary, so if you are around you should go and check that out.

The Journal of Public Transit in Ottawa Launches

This morning, Adam had a chance to chat with Peter Raaymakers of Public Transit in Ottawa about their new Journal on, of all things, public transit it Ottawa. The journal is free, online, and has a neat community-reviewed structure, and deserves to be checked out.

Jim Watson, Mayoral Candidate

This morning, Josh and I had a chance to chat with Ottawa mayoral candidate Jim Watson. We talked about why he was looking to come back to municipal politics, the challenges of a 10-month campaign (especially with the burden of a “front-runner” moniker), and talked specifically about transit and Lansdowne.

Watson clarified his comments from last week a bit, but still used some the phrasing that frustrated Reevely so last week (“Cut the suit to fit the cloth”, etc.) We pushed a bit on the transit issue, but he’s still pretty vague as to what something being affordable means. That said, he was pretty clear that it’s important to move forward on these files, and it doesn’t sound like he is going to look to change decisions that have already been made should he be elected. That’s a good thing.

Anyway, Watson is going to be an interesting force over the next year: he’s pretty clearly the front runner, and suspect that he’s going to be pretty tough to beat over the course of it. That means that, as we decide on these big issues, his opinion should have some affect amongst the public, even if he doesn’t get an actual vote at council.

This is the second of our conversations with mayoral candidates, having previously spoken with Alex Cullen. We’ll keep plugging away as time and circumstances permit, and will endeavour to speak with people again as things actually start to happen. We also won’t limit ourselves to the city-wide race, and will likely start turning our eyes to some choice council seats closer to the date.

Radio Topics, January 12th

We’ve got an exciting show lined up tomorrow: at 7:30, I’ll be joined by Colin Carmichael of to talk about the growing grassroots criticism of the government’s decision to prorogue. At 8:30, Josh will speak with Andrew Nikiforuk about the recent arrest (and release without charge) of activist Wiebo Ludwig in relation to a series of pipeline bombings in BC. As always, we are on the air from 7-9am on 93.1fm in Ottawa, for people from everywhere else.

We’ll also touch on some of the following:

Watson looks likely to throw his hat in the ring.

Hartman’s piano gets pulled.

Man attacked by pet tiger.

Mark McGwire juiced. In other news, Kieth Richards has used narcotics.

Legal aid lawyers to expand boycott of low rates.

Coyote cull contest criticized

Alex Cullen, the first 2010 Mayoral Candidate

This morning, we spoke with Bay Ward councillor and mayoral candidate Alex Cullen. The audio is below.

Cullen is first out the gate, and is obviously quick to frame himself as an experienced guy that knows what he’s doing and is unafraid to speak realisitically about taxes and services. His efforts on transparency are along the same vein. You can expect that this will be a dominant theme from a couple of candidates, including some of the rumoured high-profile ones, so it makes sense to try to associate himself with it early.

Also, as a heads up, I’ll be trying to get all of the candidates, as they declare, for similar interviews. I’ll probably also touch back with candidates as things move forward.

Also also, you should check out Cullen’s website at He’s right that it’s a bit rough (and there was some twitter catcalling to that effect yesterday), but he does have a fair number of ideas and issues up there, so it’s worth a look.